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His name is Beat, and I should hate him.
Bound, blindfolded and bruised, I'm tied in his basement, waiting for the men who stripped me from clothes and humanity to collect his debt to them. Me.
His name is Nate and I should hate him, but I don't.
I'm not supposed to know his real name, even worse, I'm not supposed to care. He is nothing to me but means to an end. The plan is simple: break free, collect the pieces of my broken soul, kill the bastards and run away.
His name is Nathaniel Thomas Vela, and I've never seen his face, though I hear that it's beautiful.
Behind the rugged and handsome exterior, there's a quiet murderer, a killer who thinks guns are for pussies and ends people with his bare hands.
His name doesn't matter, neither does his face, but what does matter is my heart. And right now, sadly, it's his.
Blood to Dust is a standalone, full-length novel. It contains graphic violence and adult situations some may find offensive.
I wolf down my dinner before he grabs my hand and leads me up the stairs. He stalks closely behind, and even though it’s taking me forever to climb up the narrow staircase, he keeps his grunt-count to a respectable minimum.
Leading me to the bathroom by the arm, he throws the door open and we both gait into the tiny room. Still blindfolded, I feel the cold sink stabbing at my lower back, but the warmth of his proximity keeps me from shivering.
“I need my privacy.” I lick my lips, feeling him everywhere. Not only is Beat physically big, he is also somewhat of a human furnace. I swear he radiates enough heat to photosynthesize a whole forest. I guess it’s good, because I always know when he’s around. But also bad, because why would it matter? It’s not like I can fight him in any way.
“Dream on, Country Club.” Another grunt.
“Please.” My voice breaks. Usually, I’m counting on my caramel blonde hair and big Disney-animal eyes—which he unfortunately can’t see right now—to get me out of trouble. I have a feeling this guy is harder to crack. “Just lock me in and stand on guard outside. What can I do? Arm myself with a bar of soap? Try and break free through the sink’s hole?”
Is he going to buy it?
Is he sensitive?
Is he hard-nosed?
Maybe he’s both. He’s got some serious codes going on—no beating women, no manhandling your victim, yet he essentially agreed to lock me in here. Then there’s his tone and body language. Peaceful. Like he hasn’t got a care in the world, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve known him for a few short hours and I’m already privy to the fact that he was an inmate in San Dimas, has killed, owes Godfrey a favor and has the Aryan Brotherhood on his tail.
“Be warned”—his peachy breath tickles my nose—“when people are bad to me, I’m worse. Don’t tempt my demons.”
Beat takes off my blindfold, but he’s not as thoughtless as to show me his face. His black tee is pulled over his head, revealing a tattooed six-pack. Even his fingertips are full of blues and blacks. Yet, one side of his body is completely ink-free. Massive, menacing…and as much as I hate to admit it, attractive.
Sweet Statute of Liberty, if I need to screw one of them in the name of freedom, please let it be him and not the chunky tattooist.
Beat can still see me through the fabric of his shirt, but before I get the chance to make out his face, he dashes out of the bathroom and locks the door from the outside with a key.
“You’ve got fifteen minutes to do everything. Pee, shit, shower, get dressed. Starting now.”
I don’t argue or waste a second. I jump into the shower and pee as the stream of gurgling water splashes over my body. My bladder is burning with release, and so are the blistering fresh wounds Seb decorated me with. Slowly, I’m starting to feel a little better, think a little clearer.
The water is hot and violent against my strained muscles. There’s only one bar of soap—I’m pretty sure Beat and Ink are sharing it (I’m guessing they’re roomies by the two worn-out towels on the rack). Not very sanitary, but hygiene is a luxury I cannot afford right now.
I scrub my body and keep the water running as I try to pry open the overhead rust-stained window next to the showerhead. I stand on my toes, peeking outside, blinking away disbelief as the sight in front of me registers. A teenager with a beanie zig-zags his way on a bike in the middle of the road, the electric wires above his head tangled with shoelaces and sneakers. Beyond the sight of shotgun houses, wilting porches and the echoes of desperate, barking dogs…a Taco Bell.
I recognize the branch. I’m in Stockton. Whose streets I know, whose crack heads I studied, whose language of hardship and adversity I speak fluently.
I study my surroundings. The house I’m trapped in is a simple one-story, and the house right in front of it is probably an identical bungalow. It looks deserted, so yelling will get me nowhere other than on Beat and Ink’s shit list.
But I’m guessing by the sound of traffic and the location of the fast food restaurant that we’re close to El Dorado, one of Stockton’s main streets.
Knowing where I am will work in my favor when I run away.
And I will run away. One way or the other. With or without Beat’s help.
I always land on my feet.
I broke free from Callum, Godfrey and Sebastian. Getting rid of these two should be a walk in the park.
Beat’s fist slams against the door three times, then unlocks the door from the outside.
“Yo, Silver Spoon. Your time’s up.”
“Just one second,” I call, turning off the faucet and stepping outside. I reach for one of the manly dark towels and cover myself up as I squat down to pick up my gray dress.
Hold on a minute.
They might have a shaving razor. Holy hell, they might have a weapon in here.
I start flinging drawers open, still wrapped in a towel, desperately trying to find something to injure Beat with. I don’t even care if he hears. Give me a razor and I will dice this 6’5 Goliath to pieces the size of Barbacoa. Talent can be outworked and rage can outweigh size. That’s the motto I live by.
Beat bangs on the door again, and it wails on its hinges.
“Hey…you,” he grunts. He doesn’t even know my name. “If you make me open this door myself, you’ll be fucking sorry.”
I ignore him. He can’t rape or harm me. Godfrey made that clear. Honestly? I’m not scared of him that much. He’s been nothing but compassionate to me so far, in his own, angry, Stockton way. Damn it, though. They have absolutely nothing in these drawers. Empty, empty, empty. What’s wrong with these men? Do they not live here, or did they think about this scenario beforehand? Probably the latter. I’m just about to turn around and pick up my dress when the door swings open and Guy Fawkes’s face greets me again, bat-shit crazy galore. The drawers are all open. I threw most of their contents on the floor in my desperate search for a weapon.
This is not looking good for me.
This man is going to kill me…and for once in my life, I don’t feel like putting up a fight anymore.
L.J. Shen is a best-selling author of Contemporary Romance novels. She lives in Northern California with her husband, young son and chubby cat.
She enjoys the simple things in life, like chocolate, wine, reading, HBO, spending time with her girlfriends and internet-stalking Chris Hemsworth. She reads between three to five books a week and firmly believes Crocs shoes and mullets should be outlawed.